Sunday is Independence Day in the USA; 234 years ago the Continental Congress, which the 13 colonies had organized to coordinate resistance to encroachments on the freedom of the people over the prior decade, declared those 13 colonies were henceforth free and independent States.
Why ? The Declaration of Independence was not a propaganda screed. Reading it, one sees a reasoned argument. The document states principals of liberty, fundamental concepts of human liberty and then a long list of actions of the English king and government that violated those concepts. "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." Wonderful language, no ?
And if you read history, you'll find that all those claimed "abuses and usurpations" truly did occur and some were occurring at the time of the Declaration. A scholar could put footnotes to every one of those violations. I found myself the other day explaining one of those events to an intern who is working for me this summer. It arose as we discussed the rights & powers of juries.
Here's the applicable quote from the Declaration of Independence: "For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury". American juries in Boston and neighboring towns had been refusing to convict colonists who were engaged in resistance. The King then ordered those trials to be held in Halifax in Admiralty courts. This deprived the colonists of the rights to jury trial that went back over 500 years to the Magna Carta in 1215.
Also this: "For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States."
What is quartering ? Quartering is a mechanism that a King-tyrant could use to avoid raising taxes to support troops. For taxes, a King needed Parliament. But if he simply quartered troops in people's homes and forced them to pay for their food & shelter, then he didn't need Parliament. This had occurred in the English Civil war. Here's the quote from the English Bill of Rights of 1689: "By raising and keeping a standing army within this kingdom in time of peace without consent of Parliament, and quartering soldiers contrary to law"
This is a real abuse and a very dangerous one as it sidesteps legislature's taxing power (and its obligation to pay for government by taxation) by imposing those costs directly onto the people. That's why the Third Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits quartering of soldiers. "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law." There's never been a precise case to date as no President has tried to sidestep Congress to quarter troops, but it's there. By the way, here's an intriguing analogy. Obama's health care bill contains a provision that would (initially) fine people for not using their own money to buy health insurance. Is that not a different form of the abusive power prohibited by the Third Amendment ? "Quartering " is a direct imposition of cost obligation onto people, avoiding the power (or obligation thereto) of taxation in Congress. In my analysis (presented on this site in prior posts), this is a strong argument from principals that Obama's health care requirement is a violation of the spirit of the Third Amendment.
And here's another abuse: "He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance." I think we all agree that abuse is ongoing now and has been occurring, on & off, for many decades.
Re-reading the Declaration of Independence and thinking over its words imbues us with sense of our heritage and freedoms and the reasons why our nation's founders declared their Independence. The US is a nation built not on ethnicity nor religion nor nationalism, but on words and ideas applied in one place. Anyone of any ancestry, ethnicity, religion, place of birth, race or creed can be an American equal in rights to any other American. We have a written Constitution and written founding documents. Abraham Lincoln saw the Declaration of Independence as a crucial founding document. Many Constitutional scholars say the Civil war amendments to the Constitution (13th, 14th and 15th) effectively incorporated its concepts into the US Constitution (written 11 years later in 1787).
For this Independence Day, if you can, fly the flag and read the Declaration of Independence.
Word of the Day
"Evince" - verb [$10]
Evince means 1. indicate, to make evident; 2. show that one has (a quality).
Sentence: (from Declaration of Independence quoted above) "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."